TANGENTS by John Saccenti: Learning new tricks on the ice

Learning something new can be challenging but also rewarding.

By: John Saccenti
   It looked like wet glass, only harder, colder and more likely to make my body jerk and spasm uncontrollably when I slipped.
   I put my skate onto the ice.
   In my mind I could see my feet flail in a panic all their own as they tried to grip the freshly Zambonied surface. I put my second skate down and my hand gripped tightly to something on my right (it may have been a wall, it may have been someone’s arm, I’ll never know).
   I steadied myself for a minute and the visions of bumps, bruises and concussions faded from my mind. But, I didn’t feel any more comfortable then I had a few minutes earlier when I’d laced up my skates, and my legs tingled in anticipation of a fall that hadn’t yet come.
   One little baby step. And then another. And then another. And then a deep breath because, well, I hadn’t fallen yet, and that alone was an accomplishment.
   I took a few more steps toward the center of the ice — my arms spread out like the wings of the dodo bird trying in vain to take flight — where an employee of the Princeton Sports Center ice skating rink in Monmouth Junction said she would give me, and anyone else there, a quick lesson on ice skating.
   I made it without falling and a woman with a European accent told me how to fall, and how to glide across the ice with all the grace of a 35-year-old who hasn’t ice skated since he was, what, 7? When I asked her how to stop, she said stop using my feet and I’ll slow down. I suggested running into a wall.
   She agreed that that would work just as well.
   Confident that with a little concentration I would soon master the fine art of going straight, I looked around for my family. It was my wife’s birthday and to celebrate we decided on a little ice skating, something she’d been wanting to do for some time.
   She and my daughter had spent the previous Monday skating at a school function, which obviously gave them the advantage, an advantage they didn’t shy from. As soon as our lesson was over, the two of them, and my daughter’s friend, took off, leaving me to fend for myself on the mirror smooth ice.
   I watched as they zoomed around, my wife going backward, and my daughter and her friend setting speed records. For about 20 minutes, maybe longer, I did what only can be described as the Frankenstein, trying as hard as I could to figure this thing out.
   Which I did.
   I hadn’t really warmed up to the idea, and at first the only interest it held for me was that my wife and daughter wanted to do it. I even thought about bringing a helmet, but really, that would have been admitting defeat before I even got on the ice.
   But once I got going, I spent nearly two-and-a-half hours out there, whizzing (yes, whizzing, I’m quite the daredevil) around and forcing myself to learn to turn. I even thought about trying a "move" or two, but decided against it, daredevil or no.
   I was a convert, sort of, to skating, and while I was never 100 percent comfortable out there, I did eventually decide that I was having fun.
   I eventually, caught up with my skate mates and basked in the glow of having learned something new, something that doesn’t happen all that often these days.
   And, I did it without falling.
John Saccenti is News Editor for the South Brunswick Post and The Cranbury Press. He can be reached via e-mail at jsaccenti@pacpub.com.